Elvis Presley and the Million Dollar Quartet

Sixty years ago, on December 4, 1956, four musicians gathered around a piano in a recording studio to jam… and the rest is history. There have been many jam sessions over the years, in plenty of recording studios, with any number of musicians – but this one is special. On a Tuesday afternoon, Elvis Presley, his date, Marilyn Evans and his friend Cliff Gleaves, were driving on Union Avenue in Memphis and spotted several Cadillacs sitting outside Sun Studio. Elvis was, by now, an RCA artist, but he couldn’t resist stopping by his former home studio to see who was recording that day. Inside was none other than Carl Perkins, who was working on a few tunes with his brothers, Jay and Clayton, and a young piano player who was new on the scene – Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee’s career was just starting at Sun, and he was excited to meet Elvis. At some point in the session, Sun’s biggest star, Johnny Cash, joined in on the fun. Some reports have him there for the entire session, while others say he was there just for the iconic photo. Either way, the four young musical legends – Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash – were at Sun Studio on December 4, and were, for at least a little while, the Million Dollar Quartet. Sam Phillips was there, too, and he made sure that engineer Jack Clement had hit the record button on the session. He also called Bob Johnson, a reporter for the Memphis Press-Scimitar, to snap a photo of what he already knew was a historic moment. “The quartet could sell a million,” Bob said in his story, which featured the headline, “Million Dollar Quartet.” The guys played a mix of their favorite country and gospel numbers. The tunes they played that day include “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Peace in the Valley,” “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” “Down by the Riverside,” “You’re the Only Star in My Blue Heaven” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Elvis sang pieces of “Don’t Be Cruel” as he told the guys about how impressed he was by a vocal group, Billy Ward and His Dominoes, who performed the song at their concerts in Las Vegas. The group’s singer that Elvis talks about during the session was Jackie Wilson. There were plenty of candid moments like that during the session. When...
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Guest Blog: Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback – Burbank to Graceland

To celebrate the anniversary of Elvis’ ’68 Special this week, we’re teaming with BestClassicBands.com to bring you this in-depth piece on the legendary special. Read an excerpt of their story below. by Neal Umphred At 9:00 p.m. on December 3, 1968, the televisions of millions of American homes were tuned to NBC, where they were greeted with this welcoming line: “If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place.” After an eight-year hiatus, Elvis Presley was back on TV. He was joined by guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana, both of whom had been with Elvis on his historic TV appearances in 1956 and ’57. Television had changed a lot in those years: Presley was in glorious color for the first time! And he filled much larger screens than the tiny black-and-white sets that had showed a grainy version of him with Frank Sinatra in 1960, the last time he’d sung to a national audience. And it was only the beginning: For the next 60 minutes, viewers saw and heard some of the rawest, hardest rock and roll music of their lives. And it worked: Elvis was the top-ranked show of the week, beating out the hugely popular Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The reviews that followed were generous, and the show’s producer, Bob Finkel, would later be given a Peabody Award for this special. Tell me why can’t my dreams come true But it was the response of the people that mattered: In the wake of the television broadcast, the single from the show, “If I Can Dream”—a heartfelt appeal for universal brotherhood and acceptance—peaked at #9 on the Cash Box Top 100 survey. It was Presley’s first Top 10 single in three years, selling close to a million copies in the U.S. (It reached #12 in Billboard.) The soundtrack album, Elvis, reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s LP chart, also the first time that had happened in three years. These two records were hits around the world, the first time that Presley had enjoyed such global success since “Crying in the Chapel” in 1965. In hindsight, all of this looks almost inevitable: How could such determination, such ambition, such genius not be appreciated on a massive scale? But that was anything but predictable when the show aired that December, for on that late 1968 day, Elvis had fallen from the pinnacle of success. He had made too...
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Elvis Presley’s ‘Blue Hawaii’

This time of year, Elvis fans in the Northern Hemisphere appreciate anything that takes their mind off of cold air, snow and ice. Enter one of Elvis’ fan-favorite movies: “Blue Hawaii.” The musical comedy was released 55 years ago this week, on November 22, 1961. This movie’s sun, sand and surf are the perfect cure for the winter blues. “Blue Hawaii” sees the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll as Chad, who has recently gotten out of the Army and is looking forward to some fun and romance the Aloha State. His mother, played by the great Angela Lansbury, wants him to take over the family business, but he’d much rather work as a tour guide for his girlfriend’s agency. The colorful, exotic locales, fabulous soundtrack and light-hearted storyline make this comedy one of Elvis’ most beloved films. It’s the first of three films he made in Hawaii, and just before shooting this film, Elvis performed a benefit show at the Bloch Arena. “Blue Hawaii” was originally titled “Hawaiian Beach Boy.” The movie was filmed on Oahu and Kauai, and the famous wedding scene was filmed at the Coco Palms Resort Hotel on Kauai. The hotel was devastated by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, and it was further damaged by a fire in 2014. The hotel has since been demolished and owners hope to re-open a new hotel on the site in 2018. “Blue Hawaii” was directed by Norman Taurog, who directed nine of Elvis’ films. Elvis would work with many of his “Blue Hawaii” co-stars in future films. Joan Blackman, who stars as his leading lady Maile in “Blue Hawaii,” would also later team up with Elvis in “Kid Galahad.” Roland Winters starred in both “Blue Hawaii” and Elvis’ follow-up film, “Follow That Dream.” Pamela Austin appeared in both “Blue Hawaii” and “Kissin’ Cousins.” Howard McNear played Mr. Chapman in this film and would also star in “Follow That Dream” and “Fun in Acapulco.” Actor Steve Brodie played a troublemaker in three Elvis movies: “Blue Hawaii,” “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” and “Roustabout.” Guy Lee starred in both this film and “Girls! Girls! Girls,” and Richard Reeves had small parts in five Elvis films: “Blue Hawaii,” “Girl Happy,” “Tickle Me,” “Frankie and Johnny” and “Harum Scarum.” “Blue Hawaii” features the most songs in an Elvis film with 14 tracks. The “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack spent 79 weeks on the Billboard charts, with 20 of those...
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Elvis Presley in ‘Love Me Tender’

In 1956, Elvis became both a rock star and a movie star. That year, Elvis was everywhere – on radio, TV, and, with his first movie, “Love Me Tender,” he was also on the big screen. “Love Me Tender” premiered on November 15, 1956 – 60 years ago this week. And really, getting Elvis to the big screen was a fairly quick process. Elvis’ screen test for Hal Wallis at Paramount Studios in Hollywood took place in late March 1956. Elvis performed two scenes from “The Rainmaker,” and he lip synched his hit “Blue Suede Shoes.” A few weeks later, Wallis offered Elvis a contract for one movie with options for six more. Elvis signed a deal that would pay $15,000 for his first film,$20,000 for his second, $25,000 for his third, and so on up to $100,000 for his seventh movie. “Loving You” and “King Creole” were made under that contract, and both of them paid more than the agreed-upon salaries listed in the contract. That contract was totally rewritten in 1958. Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, had negotiated with Wallis so that Elvis could make films with other studios, and that’s how “Love Me Tender” happened. Without a script ready to go, Wallis waived his right to produce Elvis’ first movie. 20th Century Fox set a deal with Parker in August 1956 to appear in “The Reno Brothers” – better known to us now as “Love Me Tender” – for $100,000 and co-star billing. Fox also had an option for two more movies for $150,000 and $200,000 (those two films that were shot under the contract were “Flaming Star” and “Wild in the Country”). Elvis arrived in Hollywood on August 16, 1956, and filming began on August 22. Filming wrapped on September 21. Elvis also recorded the “Love Me Tender” soundtrack during this time, too. The title track was inspired by the Civil War ballad “Aura Lee.” The original title of the movie was scrapped for “Love Me Tender” after advanced sales for the “Love Me Tender” single passed 1 million. Robert D. Webb directed “Love Me Tender.” In the movie, the oldest Reno brothers serve in the Confederate Army in the Civil War, and the Reno family back home – which includes the youngest Reno brother, Clint (that would be our star, Elvis) – receives news that the eldest Reno brother, Vance (Richard Egan) was killed...
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Cast Your Vote in Our Elvis for President Quiz

It’s Election Day in the United States! In celebration of the democratic process, we launched the Elvis for President campaign last year. We’ve given away Elvis for President kits and encouraged fans to get to know why Elvis would’ve made a great presidential candidate. Let’s see how much you’ve learned – here’s our Elvis for President...
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